December 7, 2022

Through the closing statements at their trial on October 26, former Well being Minister Yelzhan Birtanov and his then-deputy, Olzhas Abishev, pointed fingers at a “medical mafia” that supposedly hampered the digitalization course of and now desires them imprisoned.

Birtanov faces six years in jail for abuse of energy and embezzlement, whereas Abishev might be sentenced to 5 years. Each declare innocence. They’d handled a undertaking on the digitalization of healthcare providers within the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Birtanov served as well being minister from January 2017 to late June 2020, when he resigned and was substituted by one other of his deputies, Alexey Tsoi. In late October 2020, he was arrested.

The accusation comes from the Monetary Monitoring Company (FMA), which argues that Birtanov and his deputy prompted harm to the state finances by paying for, however failing to implement, a digitalization undertaking that had been agreed on earlier than 2017 with the Croatian firm Ericsson Nikola Tesla. The corporate’s CEO, Gordana Kovacevic, twice denied wrongdoing in official letters to Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in 2020 and to then-health minister Tsoi in 2021. Equally, Birtanov and Abishev insist that they acted in accordance with the phrases of the undertaking.

As well as, Birtanov claims he contributed to saving cash from the state finances with this and different digitalization initiatives he was carrying ahead. If discovered responsible, they may now be pressured to return 1.5 billion tenge ($3.2 million) in allegedly embezzled funds and Birtanov may must pay again 5.5 million tenge ($11,500) for the alleged improper use of an air ambulance.

“How may the will to modernize the trade be regarded by the state as corruption?” Birtanov requested the courtroom throughout his closing assertion.

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“We fought towards corruption, and for this the FMA and the prosecutor’s workplace determined to punish us,” Abishev stated.

Based on the previous well being minister, the accusation concerning the improper airlift from Taraz in June 2020 to the capital has “no grounds.” On the time, Birtanov was on a piece go to with different ministers and had developed COVID-19 signs. He proceeded to self-isolate and was introduced again to the capital on an Antonov, an older Russian aircraft, as a substitute of the state-operated, trendy Airbus plane that was booked for the ministerial staff. As soon as within the capital, he examined optimistic for the virus, confirming his unique suspicions, and was hospitalized. Birtanov argued that this switch technique averted the spreading of the virus amongst his colleagues.

The strongest accusation towards Birtanov and his staff stays the embezzlement concerning the digitalization undertaking, which entails a fee to Ericsson Nikola Tesla for an unfulfilled undertaking. 

Yerzhan Birtan, the ex-minister’s brother and a vocal member of his protection staff, stated that the abuse of energy on a part of the FMA is obvious.

“The FMA not solely fabricated this absurd case, but in addition forcefully stopped all works on the digital platform one yr earlier than the undertaking was presupposed to be accomplished, in November 2021,” Birtan stated in a phone dialog with The Diplomat.

Digitalization is on the core of the federal government’s technique to combat corruption in state and quasi-state sectors.

“The digitalization [of healthcare systems] had turn into a ache within the neck for the medical mafia. [As a result,] their felony income plummeted. Smuggling channels had been blocked. It was apparent that a solution from this mafia was coming,” Abishev stated in his closing assertion.

Of their paperwork, the defendants present {that a} 66 billion tenge ($140 million) scheme by which medicines had been beforehand allotted by corrupted channels had been damaged up due to the digitalization of the providers.

“There isn’t any crime, simply as there isn’t a private acquire,” Birtanov concluded.

Birtanov was appointed to his ministerial job by former President Nursultan Nazarbayev after which confirmed in February 2019, simply three weeks earlier than Nazarbayev resigned, paving the best way for Tokayev’s presidency. In subsequent partial authorities reshufflings, Birtanov maintained his place. The spiraling of his case, from poster boy of Kazakhstan’s healthcare sector to deprave official, appears at odds with the nation’s path towards democratization heralded by Tokayev.

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On October 28, the courtroom is poised to make a ultimate determination on the case and the defendants argue that this can be a check for Tokayev’s “New Kazakhstan”: “Will it proceed to bend the rule of regulation to maintain sure teams in energy or will it lastly permit an actual combat towards corruption and do proper by releasing the falsely accused ex-officials?” Birtanov’s brother asks.

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